Friday, December 28, 2012

Bromwich on post-election Obama's style

David Bromwich in Chuck Hagel and the Trial-Balloon Method Huffington Post 12/24/2012 takes a look at President Obama's flawed and frustrating negotiating style and how his fixation on moderation for moderation's sake continues to damage his ability for constructive accomplishments.

Bromwich gives several examples of Obama's style:

It looks as if Barack Obama is about to withdraw the idea of nominating Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense. To stick with Hagel against substantial (though at the beginning, surmountable) resistance would mean declaring one of his own apparent commitments to be unshakable. The pattern of Obama's career and character, however, goes the other way. His preferred method has been (a) to give in silently and let the issue trail off; or (b) make an announcement of temporary surrender in the foreseeable future; or (c) string out negotiations until the farthest-out solution seems a possible but clearly dangerous option, and his own ratification of centrist conventional wisdom appears the result of profound reflection.

Of the three methods listed above, (a) was the protocol for announcing and a few months later scuttling the closure of Guantanamo, (b) was used to defer any action on global warming, and (c) for escalating the Afghanistan war after giving the generals the time and opportunity to leak their plans for a larger escalation. The apparent exception is the health care law whose passage lasted the long year between Obama's inauguration and its signing in early 2010. But the exception proves the rule: after the signing, Obama said and did little to defend the Affordable Care Act, and according to his advisers he expected it to be declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. (That expectation was itself, of course, a reason for his silence. Obama does not like to be seen to struggle against "reality.") [my emphasis]
This is the first I've heard - or at least the first time it's registered on me - that Obama expected all along that the Supreme Court would strike down the ACA. That's certainly an important information point.

Bromwich also uses an interesting phrase, "the sickly trial-balloon method." He's specifically discussing the trial balloons for the potential nominations of Susan Rice and Chuck Hagel, but I'm not sure if he's calling trial balloons generally "sickly" or only those particular uses of them. Still, not all trial balloons are equal, and "sickly trial-balloon" is a useful subcategory.

The job of the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party for the next four years will be to keep pushing him as much as possible to act like a Democrat, even though he's far more comfortable being a 1970s Northern Republican.

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